Childhood trauma: thought-stopping against shame and fear

Thought-Stopping: stop your inner critic in his tracks

A constant stream of thoughts, worries, perceptions, and information rushes through our minds like “internal noise.” Occasionally, we must interrupt this noise flow, particularly if it turns into vicious attacks from a toxic inner critic. A technique called thought-stopping can interrupt any chain of unwanted, nagging thoughts. 

Thought-Stopping: steps

Follow these directions to learn how to stop nagging thoughts: 

Step 1 
Say, or better, shout: “STOP” if you are alone.
Imagine the word “STOP” as a large red stop sign, a billboard, or flashing neon.
Keep hearing “STOP” shouted in your mind.

Step 2
Inhale and say the word “CALM” upon exhaling after this.
Let your muscles relax, and imagine a pleasant scene such as lying on a warm, sandy beach or watching a sunset.

Step 3
Repeat the cycle of “STOP” and “CALM” several times to break the chain of thought.
Each time you repeat “STOP”, say or shout it louder.
Doing this, you will find that the original thought starts eliciting the “STOP” imager from the chain whenever it pops up again.

Thought-Stopping: daily activities

Once you have mastered the thought-stopping technique, you can apply it throughout your daily activities. As you carry out the basic steps, you may say “STOP” in your head instead of shouting out loud. Use this technique whenever you become aware of a worry or a thought that produces anxiety. After you have yelled “STOP” to yourself, think of a pleasant thought or situation that will help you relax. It is essential to follow these steps every time as soon as negative thoughts appear. If you do not, the thought preoccupation will become more vital and challenging to stop. Frequent repetition of this technique will help you develop your thought-stopping habit. Practice it consistently so that it enters your skills repertoire, and you will be able to stop disturbing thoughts.

The attacks of the inner critic often operate below the radar of self-awareness. Unless we can identify them, we are at their mercy and helpless to deconstruct them. Once we learn to recognize inner critic attacks, the simple techniques of Thought-Stopping and Thought-Substitution are potent tools for short-circuiting the critic.

There are two categories of attacks. Perfectionism attacks are fuelled by toxic shame and create chronic self-hate and self-flagellation. Fear attacks are driven by a sense of impending doom, creating chronic hypervigilance and anxiety.

Thought-Stopping: perfectionism attacks

Here is what you need to tell yourself in case of perfectionism attacks:

  1. Perfectionism:
    My perfectionism arose as an attempt to gain safety and support in my scary family. Perfection is a self-persecutory myth. I do not have to be perfect to be safe or loved in the present. I am letting go of relationships that require perfection. I have a right to make mistakes, and mistakes do not make an error of me. Every oversight or mishap is an opportunity to practice loving myself in places where I have never been loved.
  2. Black-and-white thinking: 
    I reject extreme or overgeneralized descriptions, judgments or criticisms. Statements that describe me as “always” or “never” … are typically grossly inaccurate.
  3. Toxic shame, self-hate, and self-disgust:I commit to myself. I am on my side. I am a good enough person. I refuse to trash myself. I turn shame back into blame and disgust and externalize it to anyone who shames my normal feelings and foibles. As long as I am not hurting anyone, I refuse to be shamed for normal emotional responses like anger, sadness, fear and depression. I especially refuse to attack myself for how hard it is to eliminate the self-hate habit.
  4. Micromanagement, worrying, obsessing, looping, “over-futurizing”:
    I will not repetitively examine details over and over. I will not endlessly second-guess myself. I cannot change the past. I forgive all my past mistakes. I cannot make the future perfectly safe. I will stop hunting for what could go wrong. I will not try to control the uncontrollable. I will not micromanage myself or others. I work in a “good enough” way, and I accept the existential fact that my efforts sometimes bring desired results, and sometimes they do not. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
  5. Unfair and devaluing comparisons to others or your most perfect moments:
    I refuse to compare myself unfavourably to others. I will not compare “my insides to their outsides”. I will not judge myself for not being at peak performance all the time. In a society that pressures us into always acting happy, I will not get down on myself for feeling bad.
  6. Guilt: 
    Feeling guilty does not mean I am guilty! I refuse to make my decisions and choices out of guilt; sometimes, I need to feel the guilt and do it anyway. In the inevitable instance when I inadvertently hurt someone, I will apologize, make amends, and let go of my guilt. I will not apologize over and over. I am no longer a victim. I will not accept unfair blame. Guilt is sometimes camouflaged fear: “I am afraid, but I am not guilty or in danger”.
  7. “Should-ing” and “must-urbating”:
    I will substitute the words “want to” for “should” and “must” and only follow this imperative if it feels like I want to, unless I am under legal, ethical or moral obligation.
  8. Actionism, workaholism, and “busyholism”:
    I am a human being, not a robot. I will not choose to be perpetually productive. I am more effective eventually when I balance work with play and relaxation. I will not try to perform at 100% all the time. I subscribe to the normalcy of vacillating along a continuum of efficiency.
  9. Projected self-hatred, harsh judgments of self and others, name-calling, and labelling:
    I will not let the bullies and critics of my early life win by joining and agreeing with them. I refuse to attack myself or abuse others. I will not displace the criticism and blame that rightfully belongs to my original critics onto myself or current people in my life. “I care for myself. The more solitary, friendless, and unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself”. – Jane Eyre

Thought-Stopping: fear attacks

Here is what you need to tell yourself in case of fear attacks:

  1. Catastrophizing, “drasticizing”, and “hypochondriasizing”:
    I feel afraid, but I am not in danger, and I am not “in trouble” with my parents. I refuse to scare myself with thoughts and pictures of my life deteriorating: no more homemade horror movies and disaster flicks. No more turning tiny ailments into tales of dying.
  2. Negative focus:
    I will stop anxiously looking for, over-noticing and dwelling on what might go wrong or what might be wrong with me or the surrounding life. Right now, I will notice, visualize and enumerate my accomplishments, talents and qualities, as well as the many gifts that life offers me, like music, film, food, beauty, colour, books, nature, friends, etc.
  3. Time urgency:
    I am not in danger. I do not need to rush. I will not hurry unless it is a true emergency. I am learning to enjoy doing my daily activities at a relaxed pace.
  4. Performance anxiety: 
    I am reducing procrastination by reminding myself not to accept unfair criticism or perfectionist expectations from anyone. Even when afraid, I will defend myself from unfair criticism. I won’t let fear make my decisions.
  5. Perseverating About Being Attacked:
    Unless there are clear signs of danger, I will thought-stop my projection of past bullies/critics onto others. The majority of my fellow human beings are peaceful people. I have legal authorities to aid in my protection if threatened by the few who aren’t. I invoke thoughts and images of my friends’ love and support.


Federal Occupational Health, a component of the U.S. Public Health Service Program Support Center, Department of Health and Human Services:

Walker, Pete: Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving: A Guide and Map for Recovering From Childhood Trauma.

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